Coping skills

What Were You Thinking

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Katie Donahoo

Throughout your life you will be spending more time in your own head than in conversation with anyone else. If you find yourself saying things like “I’m so stupid. I can’t believe I did that. What’s wrong with me? I hate myself. No one likes me.” Then this article is for you. Our internal dialogue has a huge impact on our self-esteem, emotional state, and how we behave. When we have negative internal dialogue it can cause negative emotional states and behavior that is unhelpful. Beating yourself up over mistakes or ruminating on what you said or did isn’t helpful and it won’t change the past. Challenging your thinking and reframing your thoughts can change how you feel in the moment and impact your behavior in a positive way.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT, teaches us about the interconnectedness of our thoughts feelings and behaviors. We have thoughts (likely negative ones), the thoughts tigger emotions, and the emotions impact our behavior, often leading to events that trigger more negative thoughts. And so, the cycle continues leaving us trapped in a downward spiral of negativity, depression, and anxiety. Sound familiar? “How do I stop it?” you ask. Well I’ll give you strategies to try.

  1. Thought Stopping: Interrupting your thoughts by utilizing imagery, such as visualizing a STOP sign, and then redirecting your thoughts to a different topic.
  2. Cognitive Challenging: Challenging the validity, fact basis, or likelihood of the distorted thoughts you are having. Then choosing to focus on the more realistic thoughts or outcomes.
  3. Cognitive Reframing: Challenging your thinking and then intentionally changing the thought you are having to a more positive thought. For example: If you have the thought “no one likes me” you would challenge that by identifying one person who you have even the slightest positive relationship with (ex: parent, sibling, local grocer, your cat, etc). You would then re-frame your thought to a more positive one: “I don’t always like everyone so it’s ok if ______ doesn’t like me. I’m not everyone’s cup of tea and that’s ok.”

Learning to interrupt, challenge, and reframe your thinking can a significant impact on your mental health. It’s not easy to start but once you get the hang of it you will be able to do it quickly therefore spending less time feeling down, depressed, or anxious. Start by noticing how often you hare having negative or distorted thoughts. Then, start identifying the thoughts you have most often or the thoughts that create big emotional responses within you. Write the ones down, literally word for word, so you can thoroughly challenge them and come up with reframes that feel genuine and true. Once you have done this you will have a mental tool box of more logical, more positive, and more genuine thoughts to use whenever you notice yourself spiraling into your negative thinking patterns. Over time this process will becomes easier and easier.

If you are struggling with your thoughts and having difficulty interrupting, challenging, or reframing them a counselor can work with you to practice, develop, and implement these strategies. Healing is possible, help is available.

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